TRIP REPORT (LONG)- CRYSTAL RIVER, FL.- MANATEES, DEVILS DEN, RAINBOW RIVER

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Jayfarmlaw

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This is long, get comfortable.......

We got back last night after the cross country flight from Florida to Denver...then back to OKC. Southwest was awesome as always with no travel drama. Gotta love 2 free bags and they actually get you and your luggage there.

We are a group of older divers ranging from 50 to 70ish, men and women, all good divers, and pretty easy to please. After 3 trips to Roatan were rescheduled and finally canceled, and a rescheduled November trip to Curacao was canceled, we just put a trip together to get underwater somewhere.

We flew into Tampa and went to Fox Rental cars to pick up our rentals. They did not have the Explorers we had reserved, and confirmed, then tried to tell us one person can not rent three vehicles, again this was all arranged with no issues on the phone and internet before we got there. An employee decided to make either new rules or enforce old rules which caused the problem. It took about an hour to get 3 Toyota Fourrunners. The luggage and people would not all fit so part of our group took an Uber to Crystal River for $100 or so. The vehicles were fine. Probably wont rent from Fox again.

We stayed at the Hampton Inn in CR. Nice place, welcoming staff, easy to find, and they would put together a brown-bag breakfast for you with a few options if you wished.

Diving- We dove with American Pro Dive Center. The staff was friendly, knowledgeable, and the shop was very nice. Our package included:

Day 1- Snorkel with Manatees on the Crystal River, 2 tank dive at Manatee Springs
Day 2- 2 dank dive at Devils Den
Day 3- Drift dive on Rainbow River, Night Dive on Rainbow River

Snorkel With the Manatee's-

We met at the shop and watched a short video of the rules for diving with the Manatees, then loaded up in our vehicles and follow the shop pontoon boat to the boat ramp. Lots of parking and the boat is the largest pontoon boat I have been on and it had square shaped pontoons (never seen those), It was very stable, even when all 18 of us were trying to look on one side. The video showed lots of manatees all close to one another...that not how our tour went. We drove around a small bay surrounded by houses and saw a few manatees here and there. Maybe 3 sets. At one point we all got in the water and two or three large manatees and a baby came and swam around within our group. My wife broke away from the group and had a mother and baby come and look at here, with the baby looking right into her mask. I think being a large group hurt our chances here and I would recommend doing smaller groups. We did not get to a point where there were dozens of manatees congregating together like the video showed, but it was a good time The visibility was good, I'd say 30 feet when we dropped in, but being a large group, it was stirred up quickly. Me being blind didn't help either. I would absolutely recommend this trip. The water was probably low 70's so a wet suit is definitely needed unless you are a polar bear. My 3mm Deep Six was perfect...and I looked great too!

Manatee Springs- This park is about 45 minutes or so from the dive shop. There is a sinkhole to dive and a river. The sinkhole was great for a weight check but was covered in Duckweed. We had too many divers to make this a good dive. The dead duck weed on the bottom gets strirred up by a fin kick and vis went from great to maybe 8 feet quickly. The little bits of duckweed floating will induce vertigo...which I like...but many of our group did not feel the same. There is flow out of this hole to the river that connects to the river through a series of caves. Our max depth was 45 feet, but you could feel the flow and watch the particles move in the mild current. I may have seen a few fish, possibly a turtle, but not much to see. I'd like to do this one again with just a couple of divers. My wife and I popped up to see if she wanted to do anything else and my reg got Duckweed jammed in the valve that lets you exhale. Note to self-Duckweed makes a reg breathe stupid wet..... I switched to my octo, found the problem, and a few purges cleared things up. No big deal. This was a great place for weight checks, and probably had more to offer, but American Dive limits their dives to 30 minutes. Most of us came up with 2000# or more. Maybe many divers may have been cold after 30 minutes, (we weren't) but this is my only complaint of the dive shop. We did not even change tanks for the second dive.

The second dive at Manatee Springs was actually a river. The flow coming out of the spring was very strong and lots of fun to play in. You could pull yourself into the mouth of the spring then let go and it would blow you out in the current. There was a rock ledge and log in the way that you had to dodge coming out, but it was fun and something I had never done before. I could do this again...several times. On this dive we saw lots of fish, 2 types of turtles, and the first divers in the water saw a snake hanging out next to the current. Lucky my wife didn't see it or she would have demonstrated her ability to run on water. This dive was fun...really fun. The visibility was excellent even with all the divers in the water because of the strong flow. The river got very shallow (3-4 feet or less) after the mouth but you could float down to a rope stretched across if you wanted to. We did but I walked back to the entry point to play in the current again. Wife was cold and did not get in again.

The facilities were nice, parking was fine, but it is a longer walk to the entrance of either dive option. I'd say 125 yards or so. It's probably 100 yards or so between the dives. The stairs are sturdy and none of us had any trouble getting to the water. We did carry tanks to the first dive for some of our divers to make it easier.

My only complaint here was we were limited to 30 minute dives.

DEVILS DEN!!!!!

Its capitalized because it was really cool. I have dove cenotes in Tulum many times and went through some pretty tight swim throughs.... Devils Den was an education. This is the nicest dive park I have been to, without question. I believe American Pro reserved a covered pavilion with 12 or so picnic tables for us. We each had our own table with plenty of room to gear up. The walk to the entrance of the cave was maybe 50-75 yards, concrete steps with sturdy hand rails made it easy for everyone We set up a couple of BCDs on the platform to make it easier for a couple of our group. Plenty of room. The water temp was actually warmer 74 vs. 72, but you could feel the difference. We immediately went through a set of swim throughs that were tight enough that you had to turn sideways. I was surprised at how tight most of them were. We went up down, mostly left (kind of like Nascar...but different....), but some right twisting and turning as we went. Most points you could see daylight, but this was definitely not for beginner divers or those with issues with tight places. The bell of shame would clang out if your buoyancy was not right and your tank hit the roof. THIS WAS FUN!! I think max depth was 50 feet-ish. The 30 minute dive limit still had most of us with over 2000 psi when we went back to switch tanks. This was the most fun dive we did.

See Part 2
 
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Jayfarmlaw

Jayfarmlaw

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Crap...hit the 10k limit, cut it and posted, can't copy word document for part 2- I'm working on it.....
 
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Jayfarmlaw

Jayfarmlaw

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The second tank at DD- some of our group just stayed in the main area, I think 7 of us went through the swim throughs a second time. I did not hear the clang of shame on the second time and learned quickly how to navigate the tight places much easier. There is no cave line run, so you have to follow the fin tips in front of you. A couple of places were a little silty, but not bad by any standard. Enough to make you crowd the diver in front of you a little tighter. When we came out of the swim throughs, I played around in the main area for a few minutes to stretch my dive a little longer. I think it was 36 minutes. I would do this again in a second, especially with a guide with just a few divers. I would have liked to flip over a crawl on the ceiling, but it didn't cross my mind until I was done. Next time......

Devils Den is about an hour away from Crystal River. Facilities were beyond fantastic. Great dives all around...just too short for my preference.

Rainbow River-

We drove 45 minutes or so to Rainbow River from the diveshop. We paid our $15 admission fee for divers, $5 for snorkelers and loaded our gear on the boat. This is a popular spot with other boats, kayakers, swimmers, paddle boarders, and lots of people enjoying the clear water. We motored a mile and a half up stream and dropped in. The plan was we would follow the snorkelers, but that went to **** immediately. The current on the surface was faster than 12 feet below, plus, the current was slow enough that you could kick into it if you wanted to see something. There were enough holes to drop into to stop if you wanted. The divers scattered like chickens and it was a great dive. There were certain navigation points such as a bridge piling and palm tree trunk, along with the springs bubbling up from the bottom. One would blow you off the bottom like you were parachuting, the other was inside a little cave, maybe 12 food deep. Both were fun to play in. Lots of fish to see, turtles, and small "boils" on the bottom where a springs was gently bubbling up making the sand appear to boil. You could run your hands in these looking for fossils, but I didn't see anything of interest. This was a fun dive and we stretched it to almost 80 minutes before we hit our departure point.

NO DISPOSABLE CONTAINERS ARE ALLOWED IN RAINBOW RIVER, SUBJECT TO AN $80 FINE FOR EACH PIECE. We were not checked but you will want to make sure you don't get tagged.

The downside to an 80 minute dive in water in the low 70's was most of our group was cold. Only 2 of us wanted to do the night dive, same place but different fish, and the logistics of getting 2 of us back were not working out. I didn't get to do the night dives. Next time.....

FOOD FOOD FOOD FOOD FOOD FOOD FOOD FOOD

I'm fat...so listen up, this is important.

We always ate in Crystal River.

Crackers- All the food was good. My wife and I got grilled scallops, grouper, and shrimp. It was good, but the scallops were a little grainy. The Conch Fritters were great. We ate there a second time and I had the blackened redfish. I'd do it again. The Conch Fritters and Clam strips were worth ordering again and again. The Key Lime Cheesecake was probably the best we had while we were there. Bar tender was generous on his pours and talented on his mixes. Tuesday night we were seated immediately as a group of 18. Saturday night it took about an hour to seat us in two groups.

Codys- Everything here was good, they sat us as a group, but for the love of God, ORDER THE FRIED SCALLOP APPETIZER!!!! This is what scallops are supposed to taste like. Really good. Absolutely Slap Yo Mama Good!! I had blackened fish, don't remember which one and it was great. Key lime was from a box, but good. Seriously...order the fried scallops, they are large and come on their own fork. I'd go back just for these.

Nortons- Burgers, sandwiches, typical seafood. I had a cheeseburger to nurse a hangover for lunch. Wife had the best fish and chips we had ever had. I expected it to be grouper but she said it was Swai. I had never heard of it but it is apparently Vietnamese farm raised catfish (Thanks Google). Dont care...it was great!! Seriously good and perfectly cooked Others had Rubens, Clubs, burgers, and all enjoyed them.

Charlies- This was my favorite place. I had blackened fish, maybe redfish?, and it was the best meal I had had. Their Conch Fritters were probably the best we had as well.

The only complaint I have was that all of the dives were shorter than I would have liked. I would want at least a 45 minute dive but would rather dive my tank. This is American diving so tanks and weights are not included and they do not provide anything as far a snacks or water on the boat. They did put divers in the water with us at Manatee Springs and Devils Den. Tom, Austin, and John were great to dive with.

It rains in Florida....alot. I don't know what monsoon level rain looks like, but i'm pretty sure I can say I dove in it. If rain bothers you, check the weather and plan accordingly. One evening, the news said Tampa was receiving 7.5 inches of rain per hour. I would be building an arc if I was in that.... Covid protocols were mostly followed. Moreso in the airports than any other places

It was great to get wet someplace other than Oklahoma lakes, be around our dive friends, and just go on a dive trip again. I can see what @The Chairman sees in this part of the world.

Safe Travels,
Jay
 

The Chairman

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You haven't begun to get to half of the state yet! Next time, you should check out the 1863 wreck of the Madison in Troy Springs Run. There's fossiling in many of our rivers, shark tooth diving off of Venice Fl, over 700 springs, and then there is the ocean diving from Pensacola to the Keys and back on up to Jacksonville. It's a diver's paradise.
 
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JahJahwarrior

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I think I warned you that you won't see tons of manatees this time of year. Come back in late January and you'll get the experience you saw in the videos. This time of year is when it is most important to go out in the early boat (5am iirc) and in smaller groups, but atleast you enjoyed and got to see some.

The viz in manatee is usually ok if you don't stir stuff up. That's the spring I got certified in, and when they explained that you could go between Catfish Hotel and the headspring underwater, I knew I wanted to get cave certified. Glad you enjoyed it.

I am a little surprised to hear that they limited dives to 30 minutes and didn't provide any snacks. They should limit based on NDLs and/or tank pressure and snacks are usually provided on dive boats...

It just so happened to have rained a lot when you were here. Florida does rain a lot, but there have been a handful of times this year that even lifelong Floridians have gone "huh, this does seem like a lot of rain recently," and the days you were here was one of them.
 

living4experiences

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Thanks for sharing your trip. Glad you had a great time!
 
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